The girl who declared war on terror. Interview with a Belarusian student living in Warsaw, activist and hunger strike at the walls of the European Commission in Warsaw, Bozhena Shamovich. Bozena spoke about the course of the hunger strike, about the difficulties, and the state of the hungry …
One of the most difficult topics for her was the topic of relations with parents who remained in Belarus, fear for their lives, because due to the activities of Bozena, her family may fall under the repressions taking place in Belarus. Bozena also spoke about the unexpected reaction of the media and politicians to the hunger strike and about the process of collecting signatures for the petition to the European Commission.
A girl, who declared war against terror.
Bozena is a very young girl of short stature, who quit her studies in Belarus and moved to Poland. Seeing her for the first time, it is difficult to think how much strength of mind this fragile girl has. Nevertheless, in the photographs of the starving, she is very cheerful with her head held high, answers questions confidently and always smiles, no matter how hard it may be.
She came out to me with a bottle of water, it is clear that it is hard for her, but she, as always, smiles:
Bozena: Please open the water, I already lack my strength.
I help her, and she asks for just a couple of minutes to gather strength for an interview. The girls are on a „wet” hunger strike, which means a complete refusal of food, but it remains possible to drink water.
After a couple of minutes, she asks to sit on a bench, right in front of the European Commission, says that it will be easier for her.
Ivan: How are you feeling?
Bozena: Today is the fifth day of the hunger strike, but the turning point is over. The hardest thing was yesterday, I was very dizzy, I felt a little nauseous. This happened right before the big protest of Belarusians on the Castle Square. I shivered and was afraid that I might faint. At some point, when I was giving my speech, my brain simply turned off and I did not even understand what I was saying. Today it is much easier for me and Stasya. We must have experienced this turning point. We have to talk a lot with different people. But somehow it turns out that when I feel worse, Stasya feels better and vice versa. This is how we replace each other.
Ivan: How is your attitude to continue the hunger strike?
Bozena: The mood is decisive, we are ready to continue as long as necessary. Dmitry joined us, he is older than us, he already has experience of hunger strikes, and of course, as a man, he decided to support us and this is great.
Ivan: Yes, I have already talked with him, he noted that for the whole country, including for men who are afraid to go out, women take the rap. From the very first days of the protest.
Bozena starts laughing, but quickly turns to a serious tone.
Bozena: Actually, I do not think that this is something wrong. On the contrary, it’s great that women have become so socially and politically active. They claim that they are strong and can also compete on equal terms. And the heroism of Belarusian girls is incredible and I am very happy that I am one of them. We have 4 girls and 1 man here now.
Ivan: Four girls? Who else has joined you?
Bozena: Diana joined, she is from the Union of Students of Culture, as it is called, I don’t remember exactly. And also Daria, she is a cellist.
Ivan: Tell us about life in Belarus.
Bozena: I studied at the University of Culture with a degree in Directing Holidays, but dropped out and moved to Poland in October.
Ivan: In Belarus, did you also show an active civic position?
Bozena: I began my activities in 2019. We participated in the „chains of solidarity” against integration with Russia in Minsk. When the protests began in August, I joined the Honest People initiative, we helped organize pickets for Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in my hometown of Glubokoe. Also, we traveled to other cities, Polotsk, Novopolotsk, Baranovichi, Minsk. I always felt inside myself that I had to fight. But before I was probably afraid. I came to Minsk from a small town, in our family no one tried to touch on political topics. For Stasya, this struggle is passed down from generation to generation in the family. And for me it was my conscious choice.
Ivan: How did you start your activity in Warsaw?
Bozena: Perhaps it all started on March 8th. It was an action of solidarity with Belarusian women imprisoned for political reasons. At the action, they read the letters of these women, and I asked the organizers to join in and hold the portrait of Maria Kolesnikova. After that, I joined them on a permanent basis.
Ivan: Hunger strike, this is a very serious decision. How did you decide on this?
Bozena: In May I had to return to Belarus due to the death of a relative. I only stayed there for a week, and it was a week of absolute dread. It feels differently when you come from another country. People there got used to it already, but for me it was terrible. When I returned, on Sunday, Stasya and I read about the arrest of Roman Protasevich and this story with the plane and other news. It was terrorism. There is no other way to call it. When you analyze the death of Vitold (Vitold Ashurok, political activist, the first person to receive a criminal sentence after the August protests for political reasons. He was killed in a colony in Shklov on May 21, 2021), the closure of the tut.by website, trials of students. I had a long monologue with myself while I was at home while flying back to Warsaw. I just knew it had to be done.
Ivan: Have you already received any reaction to your decision?
Bozena: When we started, we did not understand that it would turn out like this, that so many media, politicians, representatives of various organizations would come to us … But the main thing is how many Belarusians came to us. They come and say: you are our heroes. It gave me a sense of hope. To be honest, I haven’t read all the news yet. Our friends sometimes show us photographs and screenshots of some news. They tell us what the world media say about us. But I myself do not yet fully understand what I did.
Ivan: What did they tell you at the academy where you study? After all, exams are coming soon.
Bozena: My academy in Warsaw reacted very positively to this. I warned the administration that I would not be able to pass the summer exams and they offered me all possible help. Also, the academy decided to help with the collection of signatures for our petition.
Ivan: How many signatures have you already collected and how many do you need?
Bozena: We need to collect three thousand signatures. So far, a little less than two thousand have been collected. So we invite everyone to help us achieve this goal.
Ivan: And the family? How did your family and friends react to your deed?
Bozena: About the family … I understand that I endanger them because they stayed there, in Belarus. When I left, I completely deleted everything from all computers and smartphones so as not to expose my family to even greater danger. My mother, she found out that I started a hunger strike only yesterday. Today was a very difficult conversation. I understand her fear. But I think that for her it will also be moral support in a sense. She will understand that her child has decided on something great. I hope that time will pass and she will understand my decision …
She turns away and starts crying. It becomes obvious that behind the mask of a smiling and confident girl hides a whole ocean of emotions. The emotions and reflections that are behind this definitely difficult choice to start a hunger strike. Emotions that she prefers not to talk about in order to maintain the image of a strong girl. But these emotions say much more about her than all the photos, interviews and performances. Despite the clearly difficult choice, all the risks and many worries, she made this choice. Not for herself, but for the whole country and its people.
Bozena: I’m sorry. This conversation with my mother took place literally today.
She turns away for a second, thinks and starts smiling again. That smiling and purposeful girl returns again.
Bozena: You know, in my former university in Belarus they also know about all this. The funniest thing is when people who have once removed me from friends or forgotten begin to add to friends. It amuses me a lot.
Classmates from the academy, where Bozhena is studying, gathered around us. They came to support her. It was clear that she really needed this support, the conversation was very exhausting for her.